7.06.2007

I Start In The Garden And End In Vienna

I have avoided writing about the garden for some time now, although I am in it everyday. I think it has to do with the heat and the desultory fashion in which I have gardened of late. I saunter through, whacking at a digitalis gone to seed, fiddling with the soaker hoses beneath the thyme that is throwing it's raggedy flowerheads to the skies above. My verbascum is all tall and wiry and comic-looking, with it's bright green seed pods like little Christmas tree balls brazening it out in July. Somehow I keep up the facade that the whole place is meant to look like a sculpture garden made out of chlorophyll.

I don't know what I am expecting it to look like, I have to stop gardening self-consciously. But I will say without any sort of reservation that everyone should come by and take a sniff at our lemon verbena, (Aloysia triphylla), which smells more like lemons than lemons do. It's not even in the citrus family-which is, I think, Rutaceae.

A little word on plant names. They all used to be different. Every now and again you'll catch a gardener sighing over quixotic plant family names of days gone by: Umbelliferae, so named because all the plants in the family have the signature umbrella shaped flower inflorescence. Or Labitae, the salvia family named after it's characteristic two- lipped petals. I can see what they mean, these old names are usually lilting and evocative.

The International Botanical Congress (or the IBC, as I fondly know them) set forth the taxonomic system based on the work of Carolus Linnaeus (Carl Von Linne) the Swedish father of botany. These people mean business. The International Code of Botanical Nomenclature is nothing to sneeze at, dating back to May 1, 1753 when Linnaeus threw his first botanical punch. And apparently we're all abidng by the Vienna Code, taken from the decisions of the XVII IBC in 2005. Well then.
Let's look at Umbelliferae: The IBC took the first plant in that family that Linnaeus classified (Apium), known as the 'type genera' of the family and gave it the suffix -aceae. The result: Apiaceae, the carrot family. In this case it ends up being quite a descriptive and useful moniker-the apis mellifera, aka Western honey bee is a major pollinator of this family. Of course you can see why the IBC did this; dusty millers and butterfly bushes litter the landscape from shore to shore. One man's Bleeding Heart is another man's Dutchman's Breetches, while the taxonomic system is adhered to across the world, and each plant is assured one name only-in this case, dicentra formosa, wherever you go. Still, these people are busy constantly reclassifying plants until you're not sure if you've got a larix larix or a pinus larix. I assume things change as people discover more genetic background on individual species; also plants are constantly being introduced to the world by breeders and plant hunters. It all seems more than a little ponderous and complicated, but I wouldn't expect the naming and ordering of the planet earth to be anything but.
Sons and Daughters of Adam
And so we carry on our first father's work of naming and cataloging creation, a seemingly unending task. Creation is so mutable, pliable and (to a degree) open-ended that we are able to enter into what JRR Tolkien referred to as the role of sub-Creator as we hybridize, graft and breed plants. As we have been created in the image of God, we have still about us the tinges of divine creativity; what we do with that creativity is entirely up to us. This is unfortunate, I sometimes think, (think bombs, urban sprawl and the California Raisins) but I suppose the free-will thing is better than it's alternative. (I am no Calvinist.)
And I will end this now with a quote from someone else who was not a Calvinist, George MacDonald, whose loving, joy-filled and child-like writings have lifted me time and again. Bring it home, George!
"To know a primrose is a higher thing than to know all the botany of it; just as to know Christ is an infinitely higher thing than to know all theology; all that is said about his person, or babbled about his work."

3 comments:

MUM said...

I think we talked about this recently, but your post reminds me of God's directive to us in the Garden of Eden to subdue creation. (one of the definitions of subdue is to tame-I like that!) Easier said than done. I guess it explains our need to label things (remind me to buy some stock in Dymo) This became clear on my recent trip to Butchart Gardens in Vancouver, BC. They were kind enough to issue each visitor a nice leaflet showing pictures of the flowers in the garden. I remarked to Prima that more people were looking at the pictures than at the flowers. Just got to indentify everything, I guess.
So, part of our God-given tasks is to subdue creation. Now if I could just tame my garage.
XO-Mum
PS-I love your garden!

Rosa said...

I definitely want to go to Butchart Gardens with you next time! It sounds amazing!

Camille said...

its heartening to know we will never run out of plants. :)

Read Your Way Through the Garden: Choice Tomes From Garden Literature

  • A Book of Salvias by Betsy Clebsch
  • Botany for Gardeners by Brian Capon
  • Making Bentwood Trellises by Jim Long
  • RHS Encyclopedia of Plants & Flowers
  • Rose Primer: An Organic Approach to Rose Selection & Care by Orin Martin
  • Start With the Soil by Grace Gershuny
  • Sunset Western Garden Book
  • Sunset Western Landscaping Book
  • The Book of Garden Secrets by Patent & Bilderback
  • The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Botany
  • the Gardener's Table: A Guide to Natural Vegetable Growing and Cooking by Richard Merrill & Joe Ortiz
  • The Gardener's Year by Karel Capek
  • The Hutchinson Dictionary of Plant Names: Common & Botanical
  • We Made A Garden by Margaret Fish

lotsa latin: rosa's botanical & etymological ruminations

  • vespertinus: flowers in the evening
  • vernalis:spring
  • veni vidi nates calcalvi: we came, we saw, we kicked butt. This was printed on a T shirt I bought at Abbot's Thrift many years ago. It encircled the NEA symbol. I wish I knew why.
  • superciliaris: shaped like an eyebrow ex: sturnella superciliaris, the White-browed Blackbird
  • rosa-sinensis: species of Hibiscus: Hibiscus rosa-sinensis. Lit. Rosa of China, so named by British plant hunters.
  • placentiformis: shaped like a cake ex: discocactus placentiformis
  • nudiflorus: flowers before leaves show ex: flowering quince, magnolia
  • nivalis: growing in or near snow ex: galanthus nivalis (common snowdrop)
  • muralis: growing on walls
  • mirabilis: marvellous, wonderful
  • formosa: beautiful ex: dicentra formosa, a.k.a.western bleeding heart/dutchman's breeches/lady in a bath
  • carpe vitam: get a life
  • Carolus Linnaeus: Latinized name of Carl von Linne (1707-1778), Swedish naturalist considered the father of plant taxonomy. Whatta guy.